What can be done to prevent food poisoning?

There are various precautions you can take to protect you and your family against food poisoning. However the main thing here is to make sure that both you and your kitchen are clean and tidy.

This may seem very obvious but it can be easy to forget something when you are busy or concentrating on several things at once.

There are 4 areas of hygiene to focus upon:

  • Cleaning
  • Preparing food
  • Cooking food
  • Storing food


Please ensure that your worktops and chopping boards are kept clean and wipe them down before and after food preparation. If you have used a chopping board to prepare meat on then clean this before using it for other foods.

Wipe down your work surfaces with a good disinfectant and use different cloths for different surfaces. So, have one cloth for wiping down surfaces and another for washing up.

Wash these cloths regularly by soaking them in disinfectant and allowing them to dry.

One option is to use paper towels instead as these can be thrown away after a single use.

Tea towels: when using these be aware that they are good carriers of bacteria and germs. For example, if you have handled raw chicken before wiping your hands on a tea towel then you have just spread bacteria from that chicken onto the tea towel. And if you use that same towel to wipe a cup then the bacteria has the chance to spread even further.

If you or someone in your family uses that cup then they are at risk of food poisoning.

Avoid putting food such as fruit, salad or bread onto a chopping board that has been used for raw meat unless it has been thoroughly cleaned first.

It is a good idea to have more than one chopping board: have one board exclusively for meat, poultry and raw eggs and the other for foods that are ready to eat.

If you spill any food on the work surfaces or floor then clean this up right away.

Plastic chopping boards are easier to keep clean than wooden boards and are less likely to harbour bacteria. If you have a plastic chopping board then one of the best ways of cleaning it is in a dishwasher. Why? A dishwasher cleans at a very high temperature which wipes out bacteria.

Wash your hands with hot, soapy water and ensure that they are dry before handling food. Damp hands are ideal carriers for bacteria and germs.

Wear rubber gloves when washing up.

Remove your watch and any jewellery before preparing food. This may sound strange but germs can hide beneath these before being transported onto food.

If you are suffering from a cold or some other illness then avoiding preparing food until you are fully recovered.

Preparing food

Make sure that you thoroughly clean any knife or other kitchen utensil that has been used with raw meat/poultry. It needs to be cleaned before being used on other foods.

If you have been marinating raw meat then do not use this marinade on cooked food.

If you are preparing raw meat/poultry/fish and ready to eat food then separate these. It is important not to mix these up as bacteria can be transmitted from the raw meat onto the ready to eat food; but these bacteria won’t be killed off as the ready to eat food doesn’t require cooking. And cooking, especially at temperatures over 70 C kills off any bacteria.

Wash your hands before and after handling raw meat/poultry/fish. Do this before touching any other food.

It might be tempting to wash meat or fish before cooking in the belief that this will get rid of any germs. But this isn’t the case. Cooking is the only means of removing harmful bacteria.

The risk here is that you can splash water onto worktops whilst doing so which means that bacteria can be spread.

If you are planning on cooking chicken, turkey or some other form of game (e.g. pheasant) then it is best to buy it ‘gutted’. The term ‘gutted’ means that the bird’s internal organs have already been removed.

If you have bought the bird from a local market then you can do this yourself but you may find that it is a rather a messy job which also carries the risk of bacterial spread. If the internal organs of the bird rupture whilst you attempt to remove them then bacteria can spread to other foods, surfaces and worktops. And these bacteria can lead to food poisoning.

So, unless you are extremely careful or an expert at gutting it is better to buy a ready prepared bird.

When handling poultry, ensure that the surface you are working on has been cleaned with hot, soapy water beforehand, and is wiped down after use.

Food labels: we tend to rely on ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ dates as these determine when we can eat a particular food and when it is needs to be thrown away.

These labels also contain information on food storage, nutritional analysis and a list of ingredients.

If you want to know more about the information on the back of food packing then visit our Food Labels section.

Try to avoid eating any food that has gone past it’s ‘sell by date’ as it might contain harmful bacteria. However, sell by dates can refer to the fact that the food has lost some flavour or texture rather than being harmful.

The one exception is eggs which must not be eaten after their ‘sell by date’ due to the risk of salmonella.

Note: there is a debate at present about the accuracy of ‘best before’ and ‘sell by’ dates. The government are concerned about the amount of food that is wasted each year and how much of it ends up in landfill.

They and others have suggested that many foods which are thrown away are in fact still safe to eat. So it may be the case that the ‘sell by’ and ‘use by’ dates are a guideline only.

Many people argue that they go by the look and the smell of a particular food. If it seems to be fine then they will eat it irrespective of the ‘sell by’ date. It may be better to use your common sense when deciding whether to eat a particular food or not.

Cooking food

Cooking is still the best way of killing off any bacteria present in food but it needs to be cooked at a high enough temperature to do so. Cook your food at 70 C or more to ensure that it is cooked through. Use a food thermometer to check the thickest section (or middle) of the food to see if it has cooked right through.

Food thermometers are a great way of checking if food is properly cooked and at the right temperature.

If you are cooking a joint of meat then either use a skewer or cut open the meat to check. If you slid a skewer into the thickest part of the meat and notice that the juices are clear then it is cooked right through.

But, if the juices are pink or contain blood then leave the meat to cook for longer.

If you cut open a portion of the meat then there should be no pink meat in the middle. Plus it should be steaming hot as well.

The one exception is steak as these can be eaten ‘medium rare’ or even ‘rare’. A steak that is still pink in the middle is medium rare whereas one that is very red inside is said to be rare (also known as ‘blue’). If you are cooking steaks then cook them at a very high temperature which seals them on the outside.

A great many people enjoy their steak ‘rare’ and with no side effects, but don’t eat other types of meat rare such as sausages, burgers and kebabs.

A microwave is both quick and easy to use but care still has to be taken. Make sure that you stir food every so often, especially in the middle to check that it is heated all the way through. Do not reheat it.

Food should only be reheated once and then served.

Any food that is leftover can be eaten later but do not keep leftovers for more than 2 days. If you want to store some cooked food then allow it to cool for a couple of hours, place it in an airtight container and store it in the fridge.

Avoid using any aluminium pans or cookware with acidic types of foods such as soft fruits, tomatoes and cabbage as the aluminium can affect the taste of these foods. This equally applies to aluminium foil.

Storing food

Much of our food is stored in either the fridge or freezer which helps to preserve it for future use. The labels on our food contain instructions on where to store and how long for.

Food with a ‘sell by’ date, dairy products such as milk and yoghurt, cooked food and ready meals need to be stored in the fridge. Fresh and frozen foods need to be stored within 2 hours of purchase.

Make sure that the temperature of your fridge is set between 0 C and 5 C, and your freezer at less than -18 C. This may seem obvious but bacteria can still grow on food stored in a fridge if it isn’t cold enough.

So, wait for any cooked food to cool before storing it in the fridge. And, avoid any unnecessary opening of the fridge door such as the urge for a late night snack!

If you have opened a tin of food then don’t place this tin in the fridge. Empty the contents into an airtight container before storing it in the fridge.

If you are defrosting frozen meat then place it on a plate so that it doesn’t leak onto other foods whilst doing so and so contaminates them. Place this plate in the fridge to defrost or in a ‘cold room’ such as a utility room.

Do not place raw meat on top of cooked meat in the fridge. Keep the two of them separate to prevent cross-contamination. Put the raw meat in airtight containers and place on the bottom shelf of the fridge, away from other foods. Do not use meat after it ‘use by’ date.

If you have cooked large amounts of cooked rice or pasta then these can be stored in the fridge but for no longer than a couple of days. Cooked rice such as egg fried rice should only be kept for the one day.

If you are having a party and have prepared a buffet then store the food in the fridge until people are ready to eat. Try not to leave buffet food out for 4 hours or more as this exposes it to bacteria.

Foods can be covered with foil or cling film but not every food is suitable for this type of cover. Consider the following if using cling film:

  • If using cling film with a microwave then ensure that this film does not touch the food.
  • Do not use cling film if there is a risk of it melting into the food, for example in the oven.
  • Check that high fat foods such as cakes or pastries can be covered with cling film.

Food Hygiene Guide Index:

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